THE timing of Sky Sports’ cameras descending on Castle Park tomorrow could not have been planned any better.
The broadcasters are at Doncaster Knights to showcase the South Yorkshire derby with Rotherham Titans in a Championship encounter that is intriguing for more reasons than one.
It is the first time either side has been selected for such viewing this term but, aside from the obvious pulling power generated by their traditional bitter rivalry, there is plenty of narrative to accompany it.
Doncaster, for example, had been unbeaten in fully a dozen games until coming unstuck with the final play of the match against Jersey a week ago, agonisingly losing 24-19 at Castle Park in the British & Irish Cup.
It is the league, though, which remains their prime concern; they are up to the dizzy heights of second behind Bristol but will last week’s setback derail their surprise title challenge and leave Rotherham ready to inflict more damage, or will it merely act as a speed bump that slows their progress?
Let us not forget, today’s visitors are in a mess regardless, Titans having lost seven successive matches to leave head coach Mark Jones, the former Wales winger, under mounting pressure; an eighth defeat could render them embroiled in relegation trouble.
Ordinarily, in recent campaigns at least, it is Rotherham challenging for the top four and Doncaster toiling adrift, but the roles have, for some reason, been reversed.
Mat Clark, the Knights centre who has been so fluid in their recent renaissance, is merely concerned with showcasing Doncaster’s true colours.
“We’re looking for a big reaction against Rotherham,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“There was a lot of frustrated and annoyed boys after what happened against Jersey; we let ourselves down.
“We were very soft for a couple of their tries which was really, really frustrating just letting them come through the middle like we did. Something we pride ourselves on here is our defence, so as a group we’ve looked at the reasons behind it but we know it’s not acceptable.
“We’ll put those things right and make sure those doors are closed on Sunday.”
Clark, 26, is relishing the chance to play in front of a wider audience tomorrow.
“There’s always a lot of fans come down when Sky Sports cover a game and it feels like a bigger atmosphere,” he said.
“It’s just an opportunity to express yourself as a player and show everyone that doesn’t really know about Doncaster as a club what a great club it is.
“It’s a great opportunity for both the players and the club, but we also definitely want to get back on the horse.”
Rotherham’s loss of form having reached the top-four play-offs for the last two seasons is quite perplexing. But Clark, who joined from Yorkshire Carnegie in June 2013, knows better to under-estimate their near-neighbours who, of course, inflicted one of only three Knights league defeats this season back in September.
“We were frustrated to lose at Rotherham – it was similar to Jersey with the last play of the game when they cut through our defence,” he recalled.
“They will be looking to find some form and there’s no better place to rip the form book up and throw it out than in a derby.
“But we’ve come a long way since that last meeting and we’re really looking forward to this now and, hopefully, getting those bragging rights, too.”
Rotherham have made three changes to the side that lost – but showed marked signs of improvement – in the B&I Cup against Leinster A last week.
Hooker Darran Harris, new lock Adam Sinclair – the Scotsman recently joined from French club Albi – makes his debut and back-row George Oram returns.
Jones accepts his squad are under pressure and said: “We’ve a huge game in the South Yorkshire derby. We understand we’re underdogs – you’ve only got to look at the form of the teams to decipher that – but we’ll look to make an improvement on where we’ve been recently.
“It’s a big ask against Doncaster; they’re a quality side who have a number of ways in how they can attack you.
“They’ve shown this year how good they are with some outstanding results; especially so with their eye-catching win down at Bristol, so we know we’re in for a big test.”
Meanwhile, for the first time since the Championship began in 2009, Sky Sports will broadcast two league fixtures back-to-back featuring the top four clubs.
The Knights home game versus Bristol on Easter Sunday (March 27, 1.45pm) will be followed by Yorkshire Carnegie hosting Bedford Blues (4pm).